The government has started organising vaccination campaigns in both urban and rural areas with the right earnest. However, registration and slot booking is done through the Cowin app do not suit a country of India’s standing with a huge digital divide.
For many, internet access is still elusive. While some, especially those from lower-income groups, can’t afford smartphones and other IT devices like computers, laptops, etc., others lack digital literacy even in urban areas. To get over the crisis, the government opted for offline applications. This too ended up causing more confusion. Many people suffered on account of the government’s contradictory policy.
Let’s assess the damage caused by this ill-advised policy by comparing two scenarios, one from a rural area and the other in an urban area.
According to statistics, around 60 percent of the rural population is not even aware of how to get a normal registration done for a free vaccine. It’s an irony that India, which has emerged as the largest vaccine-producing country in the wake of the coronavirus, is finding it hard to enroll all its citizens for vaccination properly. This is one scenario.
Now, let’s move on to the urban areas where people are relatively more literate and hence accessible to technology. Be it a single smartphone for an entire family or each member of a family having a smartphone, online registration won’t be a big deal for people living in urban areas. Nonetheless, booking slots online has not proved a cakewalk. It’s no less painful than waiting in serpentine queues for hours at an end for your turn in front of booking counters at a vaccine centre. How? Let’s be logical.
Youngsters, who have everything about online booking at their fingertips, shared their worst experiences. The government was not even able to make an app with a fully prioritised and secure server. The site crashed within an hour on May 1, 2020.
Reactions are pouring in from youngsters about their experience with online booking. How they could be able to book slots by sitting for hours on telegram groups or Paytm links just to get a single notification about a single slot booking for getting vaccinated. There was a Paytm slot booking link, telegram group links for slot booking at that time. This was the situation at a time when only 100 people were to get vaccinated in a day in a city like Ujjain.
This writer had a firsthand experience of what it is like for a digitally deprived person to get a jab. When she went for vaccination, she noticed an elderly person with a sheet of paper in hand. He was under the impression that he could be able to get the vaccine jab with the document he has, which was not to be. The employees out there were not even ready to entertain the old man. All his pleas to have a look at the document fell on deaf ears.
The situation is such that the government employees entrusted with the task of vaccination are confused over the procedure themselves. They have come a long way from record keeping. They now value only a four-digit code provided to them by an aspirant for the vaccination. But the person standing in front of them does not have a mobile number or a code.
What the government has to offer such digitally illiterate people? Should they go without vaccination and risk getting infected by the coronavirus and in turn go on infecting others.
Sharing her experience, a nurse from Mahidpur near Ujjain on vaccination duty said the situation in the rural areas is so critical that if we don’t take an initiative to vaccinate the people on our own, chances are the entire region will be affected by the third wave of the pandemic in the absence of proper healthcare amenities.
Even the cities had a tough time managing the second wave. Imagine what could be the situation in case a third wave hits the villages with no healthcare infrastructure whatsoever. The government has started an open slot booking system at vaccine centers, but the villagers still do not trust the vaccine even as many of them were affected by the virus. A single failed case is enough to put them off.
If someone dies after getting both the dozes, the reason could be anything. It could be even due to one’s own negligence. But such cases become a deterrent on the people’s decision in favour of the vaccine. This is the reason only 50 -60 percent of the target allotted to each vaccine center for a day could be met.
The much-touted initiative of the government of Madhya Pradesh to coincide with the International Yoga Day 2021 – the Vaccination Maha Abhiyan – is being carried out from 21 June to 30 June. Be it colleges, schools, institutions, all are covered by the open vaccination programme where everyone aged 18 and above can get vaccinated.
The campaign, going by the data collected on 21 June, has broken many a record. Indore alone has got 2 lakh plus jabs on a single day which is an achievement in itself. Also, as per the statistics, rural areas around Ujjain vaccination surpassed the 6,000-jab target and crossed the 8.5-K mark. Additional vaccine doses were to be ordered from the district on the same day to meet the soaring demand.
In an interview, the in-charge of the health department of Ghattiya, Ujjain, Mahaveer Khandelwal, said the vaccination drive would be successful only when people start trusting the medical fraternity. Just by getting vaccinated, if you think you will not be affected by the virus, you are wrong.
“For at least 15 days after vaccination,” elaborated Khandelwal “your immune system will remain weak, and hence the risk of getting trapped by the virus during the period will be comparatively higher. Utmost precaution needs to be taken during these 15 days to keep the coronavirus at bay.”
According to him, if we keep on making the same mistakes again and again, the third wave will be imminent. The healthcare infrastructure, he said is bound to collapse as was seen in April as the country despite all the health facilities at its disposal is not equipped to fight the virus. If the situation gets out of control, it will not be in our hands.
If the vaccination drive is carried on efficiently in both rural and urban areas and the people cooperate wholeheartedly by adopting the tough regime, these vaccination campaigns will prove a runaway success. There is a need to counter the whispering campaign against the vaccines through government-sponsored advertisement campaigns. With prominent personalities lending their support, the government’s effort will go a long way in ensuring a grand success for the vaccination campaign and thereby ridding the country of the scourge called Covid.
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The opinion expressed in the article is of the writer. Writer is a freelance journalist/journalist based in Delhi